Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Va'Yeira: banishment by dissociation

Parshat Va'Yeira

In 21:10 Sarah is demanding Avraham send away Hagar and Yishmael. She says, "גרש האמה הזאת.." -banish this maidservant....

Why does Sarah call her "this maidservant" rather than calling her by her name and saying "banish Hagar"?

Sarah knew this is what needed to be done. It was dangerous for them to continue living in the house with Avraham, Sarah and Yitzhak. It was dangerous for the spiritual growth of the family and dangerous for the development of Yitzhak. She knew she had to banish them.

Sarah also knew that it would be very difficult for Avraham to do so. Avraham was the epitome of hessed. For him to banish them into the dessert would go against his grain. Not only that, but Hagar was a daughter of a king. She was his wife. She was the mother of his child. His child would be banished as well. This would indeed be very difficult for Avraham, even if he knew it had to be done.

Sarah used what we call in psychology "dissociation" in order to make it easier for Avraham to process and accomplish.

By calling her "maidservant" instead of Hagar, Avraham would be able to compartmentalize and think of it as if he is banishing his maidservant, which is much easier than banishing his wife Hagar.

When facing a difficult task, one can take lesson from Sarah and use dissociation in order to better accomplish it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Va'Yeira: using discretion

Parshas Va'Yeira

In 19:37, after the destruction of S'dom and the surrounding cities, the daughters of Lot decided they were the only survivors and they had to repopulate the world. The problem was the only man left alive was Lot, their father. That makes the relationship incestuous and forbidden. There were not other choices, so they went ahead, got him drunk and got themselves pregnant.

The older daughter named her child Moav, because he was born from her father. The younger daughter named her child Ben Ami.

Rashi says the older daughter was immodest in announcing to the world what she had done and therefore that is why later the Jews are told they can wage battle with Moav. The younger daughter was more modest by hiding the source, and that is why later the Jews are commanded to not fight with Amon.

We see from this story that sometimes you might be in a bind. You might be in a situation in which you have to do something unpleasant and wrong. But you might do it because you have no other choice.

So you do it. You don't have to be proud of it though. Keep it quiet. Keep it private. Don't announce your shameful act, that might even have been justified at the time, to the world.

Use a little discretion.

Va'Yeira: an honest days work

Parshas Va'Yeira

In 20:14-16 we find Avimelech getting rid of Avraham and Sarah and giving them cattle, money, land, etc. Why did Avraham accept it? When S'dom offered him money Avraham refused it claiming people would think S'dom made him rich instead of Hashem. Why here was he not concerned people might say Avimelech made him rich rather than Hashem?

And if you want to differentiate and say S'dom was bad and Avimelech was not, so such an impression that his wealth came from evil sources is much worse, Avraham already said in passuk 11 that this is a place with no fear of heavan.. so what is the difference?

Maybe the answer comes in passuk 17. It says that Avraham prayed for Avimelech and his people.

This money is now money that was not given to Avraham. he was not made wealthy by Avimelech. he earned that money. he provided a service. He worked for his money.

Once he worked for the money, nobody can claim he was made wealthy or that he got it from improper sources. he earned it. Nobody can take away from you an honest days work.

Va'Yeira: playing charades

Parshas Va'Yeira

In 20:16 Avimelech tells Sarah, "I gave a thousand pieces of silver to your brother.."

Why did he not say "to your husband"? he already found out about the deception and that is why he is sending them away? Why keep up the charades? He knows, they know he knows, so why "your brother"?

One could say it shows the importance of keeping up social niceties. Sure he knew. They knew he knew. He is even throwing them out of his land over this incident. But you don't call out a person directly.

They told him they are brother and sister, it is impolite to say otherwise, even though he knew the truth.

Anybody got anything better?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lech L'Cha: laughing in Gods face

Parshat Lech L'Cha

In 17:17 after Hashem tells Avraham that he will be having a child, Avraham falls on his face in laughter saying in his heart can a hundred year old man have a child born? And Sarah that is 90 years old can bear a child?

What's the big deal? He just had a child a few years ago at the young age of 86? That could happen but not by 100? 86 is normal and 100 is crazy?

Even according to Rashi who compares Avraham to previous generations that had children at 130+, Rashi still says that that had been well before Avraham's time. But in Avraham's time it was normal to have children at 60 or 70. So even according to Rashi 86 was still well out of the normal range of child bearing, so why was 100 so unusual that it caused Avraham to break out in laughter while talking with Hashem?

Any ideas?

Lech L'Cha: ratting out Sarai

Parshat Lech L'Cha

In 16:15 Avram and Hagar have a child and Avram names it Yishmael.

Rashi says that Avram named it Yishmael, which is the name the angel instructed Hagar to name the child, despite his not having known of that conversation. Rather Avram selected the name via Ruach HaKodesh.

Why does Rashi have to come on to that reason? Why not just say Hagar ran away, came back after her revelations, Avram asked her what happened and she told him about the angel and what the angel had instructed them to do? If Avram had been told that the angel had told her to give that name, he for sure would have done so.. So why come on to an explanation of Ruach HaKodesh when there is a very valid normal explanation?

Any ideas?

According to Rashi Hagar clearly did not tell Avram of the revelation. Maybe Avram did not even know she had run away.

It could be that Hagar never told Avram about it because she did not want to "rat out" Sarai as being bad or at minimum the source of strife that caused her to bolt. She preferred to take the chance of not naming the child the name the angel had instructed rather than rat out Sarai by telling the story.

Any better answers out there?

Lech L'cha: lots of angels

Parshat Lech L'Cha

In perek 16 we find Hagar running away from Sarai's house after being oppressed. She runs into the desert and ends up having a dialogue with an angel. In 16:9 it says, one of a number of times, "And the angel of Hashem said to her..."

Rashi points out that every time something was said, the angel was replaced by different angel and that is why every statement is preceded by "The angel said" - because each statement was a different angel.

Question: Why? For what purpose did the angel have to be swicthed for every sentence? Why couild one angel not conduct the entire dialogue?

Any ideas?

Lech L'Cha: making a bad situation worse

Parshat Lech L'Cha

In 16:5 we find Sarai having offered her maidservant Hagar to Avram. They lived together and Hagar became pregnant. Sarai complains to Avram "וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרַי אֶל-אַבְרָם, חֲמָסִי עָלֶיךָ--אָנֹכִי נָתַתִּי שִׁפְחָתִי בְּחֵיקֶךָ, וַתֵּרֶא כִּי הָרָתָה וָאֵקַל בְּעֵינֶיהָ; יִשְׁפֹּט יְהוָה, בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶיךָ. " I gave my maidservant to you and when she saw she was pregnant, I was belittled in her eyes.

Sarai gave over Hagar for the purpose of her getting pregnant. Now that it worked and Hagar got pregnant she is upset!!?? That does not make sense. Sarai should have been overjoyed!?

We all need validation. Here was Sarai, upset, afraid she would never conceive, scared of a future with no children, etc.

Sarai was a צדקת and very unselfishly offered Hagar to Avram that at least he should have a child from her.

When Hagar got pregnant right away, it was a slight to Sarai. She now knew for sure the problem was with her. It made her feel bad. They could not have children because of her. All these years with nothing and this lowly maidservant gets pregnant right away!

Not only was her personal honor slighted, but "I was belittled in her eyes". She lost her complete standing and level of respect. Everybody could now see that Sarai was blemished.

Sarai need validation and Hagar getting pregnant immediately did damage to Sarai emotionally and cast even greater doubts in Sarai's mind.

We all have to treat people with due respect and not make them feel slighted or belittled. It only makes bad situations worse.

Lech L'cha: not leaving room for an alternative explanation

Parshat Lech L'Cha

After Avram was victorious in his battle and freed Lot and others from S'dom, we find the king of S'dom telling Avram to return the people but keep the money. In 14:23 Avram rejects that request by saying, "אִם-מִחוּט וְעַד שְׂרוֹךְ-נַעַל, וְאִם-אֶקַּח מִכָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לָךְ; וְלֹא תֹאמַר, אֲנִי הֶעֱשַׁרְתִּי אֶת-אַבְרָם." I will not take anything, from a thread to a shoelace of what is yours, so you should not say I made Avram wealthy.

Rashi adds that the reason Avram was insistent on this was because Hashem had promised Avram great wealth, so it must come from Hashem and not from the king of S'dom.

Maybe this was how Hashem planned to make Avram wealthy? Did Avram expect a pot of gold to fall from heavan? Clearly Hashem woudl find a natural way to make Avram wealthy, and maybe this incident with the king of S'dom was that method? How could Avram reject this request based on the above logic?

A person has to be acreful to not just do the right thing but also to make the right impression.

For Avram to accede to the request of the king of S'dom, that would leave open in people's minds the possibility that it came from the gemerosity of S'dom rather than from Hashem and His blessing. Sure, maybe this was how Hashem wanted to give it to Avram, but Avram could not allow anyone to think that maybe it was not from hashem but from S'dom. By accepting the wealth from the king in this fashion, it would not close the door 100% but would leave rooom for an alternate explanation.

Avram was all abotu kiddush Hashem. There is no way he could accept that wealth and have people possibly think that he was made wealthy by S'dom rather than by Hashem.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Noah: which is worse

Parshat No'ah

In 11:9 after the story of the Tower of Babel, it says "from there Hashem scattered them throughout the land".

Rashi compares the Generation of the Flood to the Generation of the Tower of Babel. he concludes that despite the Babel people being evil, because they rebelled against God, they were not as bad as the Flood people. Rashi comes to this conclusion because the Flood people were destroyed while the Babel people were only scattered. From this Rashi learns that dissent and dispute is worse because the Tower people had peace with each other and that is what saved them.

I would like to add that dispute with fellow man is much worse than rebelling against God. This is similar to our concept of repentance. If one commits sins against God, he can repent and request,, and receive, forgiveness. But when he sins against his fellow man, we know that it is much more difficult to receive that forgiveness.

One must be extremely careful in his dealings with other people.

Noah: leadership like Moses

Parshat No'ah

In 8:8-9 it says he sent the dove from him... the dove found nowhere to set down and returned to the ark, and Noah sent forth his hand and took her and brought her back in...

Why was this dove so high maintenance? The raven was sent out and it came back in on its own when it could not find land. The dove later was sent out and came back on its own with an olive branch. This time the dove was sent out from him - meaning Noah sort of urged it out and helped it leave, and when it came back he had to retrieve it and assist its re-entry.

According to the Ohr Hachaim, the dove was very weary from its trip. It had not found land and had not set down even to rest for 7 days.So when the dove came back in, Noah knew it was very tired because it had not rested in 7 days and therefore helped it back in.The first time it was the raven which is a much stronger bird, so it did not need help (and possibly it did not travel far according to the midrash). The later time the dove had returned holding a branch meaning it had found a resting spot so it was not tired.

See Noah's sensitivity to his surroundings. He was aware the bird was tired. I have no idea how one can look at a bird and see that it is weary. I do not know what a tired bird looks like.

But Noah was sensitive to it. Sure, it was only a matter of another meter. How much help did Noah really offer it anyway? Could the bird not make it back the last meter or two (how far could Noah have reached anyway to grab it) that Noah needed to assist it? Sure the bird probably would have made it anyway.

But Noah was sensitive to his surroundings and knew that even if it is only a small bit, he could still relieve the bird, just a bit, of his weariness.

This is why Noah was great. While everyone else around him was stealing and seeped uin immorality, he was acutely aware of even the slightest discomfort another was experiencing and he figured out how to help relieve that discomfort.

I would like to add that this is similar to how Hashem chose Moshe to lead Israel out of Egypt and later how he chose David and other prophets. They were shepherds. Hashem saw the great level of sensitivity they had when relating to their sheep. When Hashem saw how Moshe helped his sheep eat, He chose Moshe because only someone that sensitive to the needs of others, even animals, can lead a people without his own selfish needs getting in the way.

Noah was the same. When everyone else was looking out for themselves, Noah was sensitive to others. That is why Hashem chose to save Noah and through him to rebuild the world.

Noah: a man of faith in mankind

Parshat No'ah

In 7:7 it says Noah and family went into the ark "מפני מי המבול" - because of the waters of the flood.

Rashi says Noah was a man of little faith. Sure, he was righteous and moral and did what God told him (build an ark), but he did not really believe the flood would come until he was forced to go into the ark because of the waters.

I would like to suggest another reason why Noah waited until the waters were right there before he went into the ark. I think he wanted to give the people as much time as possible and as many chances as possible to repent and join him. Once he would go in and shut the door, that is it. They would not be able to get in. By delaying his entry to the last possible moment, he was giving them more time and more opportunities to repent and join him in the ark.

Whether he was man of little faith or not I do not know (Rashi says he was), but I think he loved mankind and tried to give them an extra chance even if it meant his only going in at the last minute and putting himself at risk.

Noah: which animals to take in

Parshat No'ah

In 7:2-3 God tells Noah about taking 7 pairs of pure animals into the ark and 2 of impure animals.

My question is how would Noah know which animals were considered pure and which were considered impure - those rules were only given much later. At that point they would have had no idea, as no animal could be eaten - even the pure ones. So could Noah have known what to take, and what ramification would such a distinction have had?


Saturday, October 06, 2007

B'Reishis: blaming others

Parshat B'Reishis

We find the snake tricking Chava into eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and she proceeds to get Adam to eat. Hashem comes looking for them. He comes to Adam in the Garden of Eden and asks him why he ate from the Tree he was not supposed to eat from?

Adam blames it on Chava. She made me do it.

Hashem approaches Chava and asks why she did it. She blames the snake. he made me do it.

Hashem approaches the snake and tells him off. he then curses the snake, goes back and curses Chava and then Adam.

This is a good lesson. I said to my kids - What happens if Tzvi writes on the wall. I come to him and scream at him, "What's going on??!! Why'd you do that!!??"

Tzvi says, "Mickey told me to do it."

I go to Mickey and ask what happened. He blames it on Nachum.

So I go to Nachum. In the end they all get punished.

It does not help to blame others.

It is the natural reaction. Adam blamed Chava who blamed Snake.

But it got them nowhere. They all got punished.

I wonder what would have happened had Adam just said, "Sorry God. I know I did something wrong. Please forgive me. I will try to do better next time" instead of blaming others. Would he have gotten the same punishment? Would Hashem still have chased down Chava and the snake? I do not know.

But I do know that they all tried to blame someone else and in the end they all got punished for it.

Breishis: coincidence?

Parshat B'Reishis

It is very rare to find in the Torah two people with the same name. In Breishis we find two people named Lemech. One is a descendant of Kayin, and the second is the descendant of Shes.

The Lemech of Kayin had a child named Naama. The Lemech of Shes had a child named Noah.

Noah eventually married Naama and the two of them (and their children) were the only people to eventually survive the flood that destroyed the world.

I am sure it is not a coincidence that they are both children of two different people named Lemech, a very rare occurrence on its own. That they both had a father named Lemech and they married each other and survived the flood makes the whole thing even rarer.

What is the significance of both having a father named Lemech?


B'Reishis: bad birth control

Parshat B'Reishis

The passuk says that Lemech married two wives, Ada and Tzila. Rashi tells us that in that generation they would marry two wives, one for the purpose of having children and the second for her beauty and for sexual relations. They would give the second wife a "kos shel ikrin" (some form of birth control) to make her sterile.

Ada was the wife for having children and Tzila was for her beauty.

My question is: two verses later we see Tzila having children. What happened to the kos shel ikrin that made her sterile? How could she have children?

The only anwers I have is that 1) it was birth control that did not work or 2) Tzila said she took the borth control but really she did not.

Anybody got anything better?